Why would you — a bioengineering Ph.D. student — seek to join WIVA (Wharton Impact Venture Associates)?
“As a high school student, I was motivated to study bioengineering because of its potential to generate impact through technical innovation. To me, bioengineering was a way to apply engineering principles to create medical technology in the hopes of devising solutions for global health concerns.
Though I have gained significant understanding of the current pressing healthcare needs, I felt that I was missing a key understanding of how investors think about social impact. To better understand how to apply my science background to the impact space, I joined WIVA. I also wanted to venture outside of healthcare and learn about other important social impact sectors such as education, energy, and environment, all of which WIVA explores in its deal-sourcing process.”
What have you learned through WIVA that you have not been exposed to before?
“I learned how to assess early-stage startups for their impact and return-on-investment potential, as well as how to rigorously analyze company financials and projections.
I also had the opportunity to meet leading social impact professionals through WIVA. I attended a Wharton Social Impact Initiative event with Vincent Stanley, the Director of Philosophy at Patagonia. From this discussion, I learned about how the word ‘sustainable’ continues to be misused by companies and how companies should try to ‘regenerate’ the resources they consume to be truly deemed sustainable.
This conversation brought to mind my research experience with regeneration — could I use my WIVA deal-sourcing techniques to find impactful startups that use this concept?”
Tell us more about the concept of regeneration. How can it be applied in the impact space?
“Many animals, such as lizards and worms, can regenerate — or re-establish — entire body parts if they are injured. In contrast, human bodies are less capable of healing themselves. Through aging or disease, organs stop working like they used to and ultimately fail. Many researchers have tried to develop ways of regenerating organs’ healthy structure and function.
Through a bioengineering lens, I see a parallel between the way tissues degenerate from injury and overuse, and the way Earth’s ecosystems are being damaged by emissions, pollution, and resource overuse. Though many companies have made efforts to decrease resource consumption and emission generation, it is evident that doing less harm is no longer good enough.
To survive and thrive on Earth, sustainable practices must evolve to the regeneration of resources. I believe that investing in companies that are developing technologies that achieve this have the potential for both significant financial returns and immense global impact.”
What startups have you found working with regeneration technology?
“I discovered LanzaTech through the WSII podcast Dollars and Change. LanzaTech uses genetically engineered bacteria that consume carbon pollution from industrial off-gases, and through that process is able to produce fuels and chemicals.
This motivated me to try to find other startups that are using emissions to generate fuels. One such company that caught my attention is Opus 12, which has developed a way to use renewable energy and water to transform CO2 emissions into basic building blocks for commonly used materials like household products, fuels, and plastics. WIVA enabled me to connect with the founders, and I was even more excited after speaking to them and learning that they plan to apply this technology on an industrial scale.
This technology could enable companies around the world to not only decrease their emissions but also generate new compounds. Like LanzaTech and Opus 12, there are many other companies focusing on using waste as inputs for resource generation. Investments in this space could promote the development of disruptive technology and make resource regeneration the new standard of operation.
Moving forward, I’m excited to use my WIVA training to source more companies like this in the future.”
— Ana Peredo and Hannah Sherwindt
Posted: July 27, 2020